What is the difference between ‘recreational’ and ‘medicinal’ Cannabis use? There is no difference, it’s purely semantics. A Cannabis flower’s utility medicinally or recreationally is determined solely by the user, but in the era of re-legalisation and corporatisation of Cannabis, the distinction apparently matters. As across the United States (US), different state governments would give a variety of answers to the question of Cannabis utility. At the end of 2015 in Utah, Cannabis had to be smuggled in from nearby states for those wishing to treat their Crohn’s disease, for example, with no legal production or distribution system within Utah’s borders for the then newly legalised medicine. In the eyes of the Utah state legislature, only severely epileptic patients deserved access to Cannabis ‘medicines’ and even then they had to be so low in delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) that they could arbitrarily have been defined as industrial hemp!
Utah was unfortunately the rule not the exception. US national Cannabis laws are a patchwork of majority unscientifically-based assumptions, mostly by anti-Cannabis legislators worried about the imaginary ‘havoc’ that could purportedly be wreaked on society should people secure legal access to a plant they already obtained on the black market. Ask an old school California activist like Dennis Peron, who spearheaded Proposition 215 in 1996 (the first medical Cannabis initiative to pass in California) and he will tell you all use of Cannabis is ‘medical’. Some might know Peron as one of Prop. 215’s authors, fewer people know the personal cost he paid. Once a big dealer in his district, he was shot in the leg by a San Francisco cop who later said he wished he’d killed Peron, as there’d be “one less fag” in town. Peron lost friends and his partner to the HIV/AIDS crisis, which was when America re-discovered Cannabis as medicine.
At the time, AIDS was still a mystery. Researchers, doctors and nurses were baffled and confused, and some refused to treat patients for whom a diagnosis was a death sentence. About the only thing that helped AIDS patients, who were wasting away, to eat, sleep and live in less pain, was Cannabis. Through most of the 1980’s, a former waitress, known as “Brownie Mary”, handed out brownies, baked with Peron’s pot, to the patients in San Francisco General hospital’s AIDS ward. After his partner, who lived long enough to offer testimony to acquit Peron of his latest pot bust, died, Peron opened up a four-story medical Cannabis dispensary in San Francisco, the country’s very first. Local officials refused to prosecute him, so the state attorney general raided him. Peron was lauded, while the attorney general was lampooned in the comic strip Doonesbury, but that was the end of his major dealing days.
After Prop. 215 passed, Cannabis clubs sprang up around San Francisco and Oakland, and Peron was out of business. While recovering from a stroke in 2010, he was raided again by San Francisco cops, one the partner of the cop who’d shot him 32 years before, and the stress caused a seizure. Talking has been a challenge for Peron ever since, but he still does speak, especially about Cannabis. One of the great ironies is that Dennis Peron, champion of Cannabis, opposed the 2016 efforts to legalise it in California. As the movement became an industry, Peron was seemingly the only voice saying anything negative about the billionaire-bankrolled legalisation efforts. “All use is medical”, he would say, which meant legalisation was unnecessary. He insisted Prop. 215 was all California needed and took the message to Humboldt County (in the heart of the Emerald Triangle), where growers were preparing commercial-sized greenhouses for the impending Cannabis market and told them money was tyranny and taxing Cannabis meant giving up control. Calling Cannabis “recreational” was the worst of all; it trivialised the plant.
While some may scoff at the notion that all Cannabis use is medicinal, there is plenty of basic science to back up the therapeutic efficacy of Cannabis and cannabinoids. Whether or not the user is treating a diagnosed condition with Cannabis, their choice to use it in place of a more toxic pharmaceutical or recreational drug is a proven healthful choice. Deemed as relatively benign, drugs like aspirin for example, are far more dangerous than Cannabis could ever be. Aspirin can cause gastrointestinal complications and death if too much is ingested. When Bayer introduced aspirin in 1899, Cannabis was America’s number one painkiller. Until Cannabis prohibition began in 1937, the US Pharmacopoeia listed Cannabis as the primary medicine for over 100 diseases. Cannabis was such an effective analgesic the American Medical Association (AMA) argued against prohibition on behalf of medical progress. With Cannabis’ medicinal potency and non-toxicity, the AMA considered it a potential ‘wonder drug’!
In Australia, adoption in 1926 of the Geneva Convention on Opium and Other Drugs imposed restrictions on the manufacture, importation, sale, distribution, exportation and use of Cannabis, opium, cocaine, morphine and heroin, allowing for medical and scientific purposes only. Accounts differ as to how widespread the use of Cannabis as a medicine was at the time in Australia, but it was a main ingredient in various patent remedies, with its therapeutic use initially popularised by Ireland’s Dr William O’Shaughnessy, physician and member of the Royal Society (United Kingdom’s national academy of science). Although Cannabis was mentioned by early botanists and explorers describing their travels, little was actually known about Cannabis therapy in Europe and America until O’Shaughnessy presented a paper to students and scholars of the Medical and Physical Society of Calcutta in 1839. The 40-page paper was a model of modern pharmaceutical research and included a thorough review of the history of Cannabis’ medical uses by Ayurvedic and Persian physicians in India and the Middle East.
O’Shaughnessy conducted the first clinical trials of Cannabis preparations, first with safety experiments on mice, dogs, rabbits and cats, then by giving extracts and tinctures (of his own devising, based on native recipes) to some of his patients. O’Shaughnessy presented concise case studies of patients suffering from rheumatism, hydrophobia, cholera and tetanus (his cousin Richard penned a paper on a case cured by Cannabis preparation), as well as a 40-day-old baby with convulsions, who responded well to Cannabis therapy, from near death to “the enjoyment of robust health” in a few days. In 1843 ‘On the Preparations of the Indian Hemp or Gunjah, Cannabis Indica Their Effects on the Animal System in Health, and their Utility in the Treatment of Tetanus and other Convulsive Diseases’ was published.
A healthy person who chooses a joint (Cannabis cigarette) over a beer is making a positive health decision (even though vaping would be preferable to smoking). Around 22,000 Americans die per year (and around 3,000 Australians) from excessive consumption (abuse) of alcohol.
Non-toxic Cannabis claims zero lives annually and remains one of the most non-toxic substances humans consume (even water is more toxic than Cannabis)! However, as more states across the US legalise adult ‘recreational’ Cannabis, state-sanctioned ‘medical Cannabis’ programs have come under attack. In an attempt to sell legalisation to anti-Cannabis voters, legalisation advocates emphasised the financial rewards over harm reduction or freedom. Good old-fashioned American capitalism driving legalisation should come as no surprise, although the arguments for freedom and liberty should be more powerful drivers.
Does there even need to be a distinction between ‘recreational’ and ‘medicinal’? It seems drawing lines in the sand may cause more harm than good. In the case of American states in the era of re-legalisation, it is no longer the user’s right to determine the utility of their use, but government’s. If government thinks you’re just wanting to have a good time they can levy 20% or more in tax which provides states with an incentive to classify more use as recreational rather than medicinal. Most states with ‘medical cannabis’ have a list of conditions for which recommendations are approved. These usually include the most serious and common fatal and chronic illnesses, such as cancer, AIDS, autoimmune disorders and epilepsy. When it comes to mental disorders, and diseases so obscure they don’t fit on the list, or the right to use Cannabis in place of ‘as needed’ drugs like aspirin, US state governments have determined that this use is recreational, not medicinal.
In Oregon, Washington and Colorado state legislators were quite concerned about who could still get access to lower-priced, tax-free, medicinal Cannabis. This led to a ‘decoupling’ of patients from their caregivers and many patients being told they no longer qualified as medicinal. Why? Because the argument for American greed won over the argument for American liberty. As both US conservatives and liberals view freedom as autonomy over one’s body and the medications they choose to use to treat whatever it is that ails them, it would seem most un-American to allow the state to determine the best medical care for patients, rather than the doctors and patients themselves. The heart of Prop. 215 was freedom. Unlike subsequent medical Cannabis bills that passed in other states in the years after, Prop. 215 was vague and created no regulatory structure. Instead, it simply said a person had the right to use Cannabis for any condition for which a doctor saw fit.
The lack of an approved list of conditions was one of the biggest criticisms of Prop. 215. If any condition qualified, essentially anyone could access California’s massive industry. Legislators in other states point to this as what they, as responsible politicians, would not do. Prop. 215 was about allowing doctors and patients the right to determine what worked best for them, even if it was a safe non-toxic substance that happened to be federally illegal thanks to 80 years of lies and propaganda. Further, the state of California never addressed the legislation and the commerce that would arise around it. There was no state medical Cannabis program in California; just a thriving industry among a messy patchwork of regulations and bans across the state’s many diverse regions. Fast-forward twenty years to 2016 and California Proposition 64. The ‘California Marijuana Legalisation Initiative’, on the 8 November ballot as an initiated state statute was approved.
Legalisation passed, 57.13% voted yes as opposed to 43.87% who voted no, in California. Supporters referred to the initiative as the Adult Use of Marijuana Act (AUMA). A ‘yes’ vote supported “legalising recreational Cannabis for persons aged 21 years or older under state law, establishing certain sales and cultivation taxes”. Prop. 64 made it legal for individuals to use and grow Cannabis for personal use. However, the sale and subsequent taxation of recreational Cannabis will not go into effect until 1 January, 2018 and the Government, not doctors nor medical professionals, will now determine the route of medical care for patients. Prop. 64 permits Cannabis smoking in a private home or at a business, licensed for on-site consumption, but Cannabis smoking remains illegal while driving a vehicle, anywhere smoking tobacco is and in all public places. Up to 28.5 grams of botanical Cannabis and 8 grams of Cannabis concentrate are legal to possess under the measure.
However, possession on the grounds of a school, day care or youth centre while children are present remains illegal. An individual is permitted to grow up to six plants within a private home as long as the area is securely locked, not visible from a public place, is licensed and has been inspected and approved by law enforcement. The California Bureau of Medical Cannabis Regulation was renamed the Bureau of Marijuana* Control, responsible for regulating and licensing Cannabis businesses across the state. Counties and municipalities are now empowered to restrict where Cannabis businesses can be located and local governments are allowed to completely ban the sale of Cannabis from their jurisdiction. Moreover, local jurisdictions are allowed to “reasonably regulate” personal growth, possession and use of Cannabis plants.
The majority of citizens across California agreed with Prop. 215, the law that was passed in 1996, so why did they seemingly sit back while the bureaucrats and businessmen redefined personal use for them? Appeasing the obscenely wealthy prohibitionists, or the lying minority, that’s why. Pro-cannabis and concerned patients need to recognise they have huge power; they are the honest majority. More importantly, ‘free’ people (we are supposedly free) have a choice; liberty or greed? With ‘alternative facts’ abounding across the US, Granny Storm Crow in California expressed her amazement and horror at current US and world politics. Her grandfather would be beside himself, “If the truth won’t do, then something is wrong”, he would reiterate most strenuously. Very wrong indeed!
Although they voted to legalise Cannabis in California, local governments are now adding restrictions that make it difficult to grow legally. with no indoor growing, but at the same time, no ‘natural sun’ growing, either. Plants in California must be grown in a hard-sided greenhouse, not visible to the public, fenced, locked, inspected and approved by law enforcement. For which the owner must have a grow license, around US$130, that the county is responsible for but does not yet offer! Granny’s advice is to be sure the right to grow your own is ‘hard-wired’ into law! “Unless we are free to grow our own Cannabis, we are merely trading one drug lord for another! I think I’ll just go on like always and quietly keep growing in my ‘very well-lit’ closet in the den. Been doing it for 17 years and haven’t been caught yet”.
Australians are being force-fed privatisation, with no offer of decriminalisation nor re-legalisation, driven by unmitigated greed and a complete lack of understanding of even the mechanism-of-action of Cannabis. Australia could learn from the US ‘experiment’ or take a leaf out of Uruguay’s book, where full re-legalisation of all previously illicit ‘drugs’ took place in 2013. Drug consumption is not a crime in Uruguay, state law permits the use of any recreational substance and does not criminalise possession for personal use. Cannabis is the exception when it comes to permissible ways of obtaining substances deemed, ‘drugs’, as Cannabis may be obtained by growing it for personal use, buying it from pharmacies or the Ministry of Health, or by being a member of a Cannabis club. Uruguay gained its prominent position on drug-related issues through vigorous campaigns in political and diplomatic arenas for drug control policies that remain cognisant of human rights, emphasise civil society participation, remain impartial and egalitarian according to principles of mutual and shared responsibility, and avoid the stigmatisation of certain countries.
The Australian Government has rushed to benefit pharmaceutical corporations (who donate to all sides of politics in Australia) without considering their own citizens. They have most certainly put profits before patients which has already led to the demise of at least one former government employee featured in mainstream media. Australia’s Sackville Royal Commission on Non-Medical use of Drugs in South Australia was perhaps the most intelligent and least corrupt of three Australian Royal Commissions during the 1970’s and its recommendations produced South Australia’s decriminalisation model for Cannabis. Decriminalisation is seen as the simplest first step toward re-legalisation, as it merely entails changing regulations surrounding a simple offence or deleting the simple offence entirely. However, decriminalisation is a misnomer, and does not make for less criminals by those in control. Re-legalisation does not support the continued criminalisation of otherwise law-abiding citizens for using a natural, non-toxic, preventative herb. Without complete freedom it is a farce!
Cannabis, in both medicinal and recreational contexts, has now been re-legalised in eight US states. In 2012, the then Chairman of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws’ (NORML) Paul Kuhn stated, “The health risks of Cannabis are far less than those of alcohol and tobacco and more akin to those of caffeine. In fact, thousands of studies show Cannabis has potential health benefits in fighting diseases like Alzheimer’s, Crohn’s, MS and even cancer”. He added, “Most hard drug addicts start with tobacco and alcohol, not marijuana*. I have friends who consider marijuana* ‘the exit drug’ because it helped them recover from dependence on alcohol and other addictive, deadly substances. Reform of Cannabis laws in the US is, at its core, not a political issue, but one of personal health. That it has become politicised is a testament to how no shortage of ‘civic servants’ seek to manipulate a quintessentially private matter for public gain”.
The idea of ending prohibition entirely enjoys strong support across the US. NORML’s Deputy Director, Paul Armentano stated in an interview in March 2017, “The ongoing enforcement of Cannabis prohibition financially burdens taxpayers, encroaches upon civil liberties, engenders disrespect for the law and disproportionately impacts young people and communities of colour. It makes no sense from a public health perspective, a fiscal perspective, or a moral perspective to perpetuate the prosecution and stigmatisation of those adults who choose to responsibly consume a substance that is safer than either alcohol or tobacco. Cannabis prohibition was, and still is, an outgrowth of a broader ongoing cultural war engaged in and perpetuated by certain segments of society upon other segments of our society, particularly ethnic minorities and the poor. This policy has never been about Cannabis per se; it is about targeting, stigmatising, prosecuting and disenfranchising particular social or cultural groups who are stereotypically associated with its use”.
“If America’s Cannabis policies were guided by science and evidence rather than by emotional rhetoric and cultural stereotypes, we would have enacted an entirely different policy long ago. Most Americans support the enactment of a pragmatic regulatory framework that allows for the licensed commercial production and retail sale of Cannabis to adults, but that also restricts and discourages its use among young people. Such a regulated environment already exists for alcohol and tobacco and has proven effective at reducing problematic use, and especially use among young people, to historic lows. These same principles ought to be applied to regulating Cannabis. By contrast, advocating for continued criminalisation does nothing to offset potential risks to the individual user and to society; it only compounds them”.
Australian patients wanting legal access to ‘medicinal Cannabis’ have been told they will need to pay tens of thousands of dollars a year for an imported product, as state and federal governments continue to fight over who should subsidise it. Patients have been quoted up to AU$34,000 a year, or about $93 a day, from an approved importer, leaving them no choice but to continue sourcing Cannabis through illegal channels. The state of Queensland’s Chief Health Officer told a parliamentary committee that just four patients had been granted access to ‘medicinal Cannabis’ through the state’s single-prescriber pathway, plus two patients enrolled in the Lady Cilento Children’s Hospital pharmaceutical trial. She said it was hoped the new bulk importation rules introduced by the Federal Government would reduce waiting times, currently averaging four months, and bring down costs for patients. Steve Peek, who fears his eight-year-old daughter Suli will die without access to the Cannabis oil he usually gets for free from a supplier, said he had been quoted $US26,000 a year for a legal alternative. “It’s impossible”, he said.
Expanded from Legalization Is About Freedom And Good Health, Not Greed, with Dennis Peron: A Cannabis Folk Hero Who Never Sold Out, Ballotpedia-California Proposition 64, Marijuana Legalization (2016), Cannabis Is Safer Than Aspirin, Antique Cannabis Book – W. B. O’Shaughnessy The Man Who Brought Medical Cannabis to the West, Granny Storm Crow’s List, UN Drug Control Country Information – Latin America, Uruguay, and Australian Medical Cannabis Signpost
*Cannabis sativa L., is the correct botanical term, marijuana is a North American colloquialism